Birmingham’s fighting care workers were set to strike again this week.
The 280 Unison union members were preparing to walk out for five days from Wednesday of this week—part of 15 strike days planned for November.
They are fighting redundancies and cuts to their hours that will see the vast majority of workers reduced to part-time wages. Birmingham City Council has been trying to push through a series of vicious cuts on the home enablement service in the name of “efficiencies”.
The changes would see workers lose between £400 and £800 a month. The 98 percent women workforce are already so low-paid it’s not an amount they can afford to lose.
Around 40 strikers last week dressed as men and unfurled a “Care cuts=austerity” banner at a cabinet meeting of the Labour-run council.
Senior Unison steward Mandy Buckley told Socialist Worker, “If it was men full time workers, they wouldn’t cut their hours like this.
“They see men as the main breadwinners, not women.”
The council wants a programme of voluntary redundancy and lateral moves—where workers transfer to a different part of the council.
And management is keen to push for one-to-one meetings with strikers.
Mandy said it’s an effort to “intimidate and patronise” workers into giving up their jobs or hours.
“You don’t need to go into a one-to-one meeting to understand those cuts, people can work that out for themselves,” she added.
Strikers have recently set up an online donation page. Mandy said, “We need more cash so we can keep going.”
The care workers receive £25 a day in strike pay from their Unison union, but because they are so low paid the local hardship fund is used in addition to this.
It means every five days of strikes costs the hardship fund £20,000.
Mandy said that the council hopes workers will be broken by hardship and that “the pot will dry up so they’ll get us back”.
And she said solidarity messages and financial donations are keeping strikers’ spirits up.
“The letters of support are absolutely brilliant, we’ve got a big file of them that we show to all our members”, she said.
After 11 months of the dispute, Unison needs to pile on political and industrial pressure to help workers win.
There is more the national leadership could do to win this dispute. For instance, secondary action during the equal pay strikes in Glasgow saw bin workers, street sweepers and school janitors refuse to cross picket lines to go into work. This led to some Glasgow City Council services to shut down for 48 hours.
There is no reason why this couldn’t be repeated elsewhere.
The Birmingham home carers have heroically led this fight against a Labour council implementing cuts so drastic it will leave many relying on food banks or losing their homes.
But Unison has never used the power of its 1.3 million members.
The leadership of Unison should call for branches to host strikers, days of action and encourage walkouts. There should be mass protests where trade unionists flood the streets of Birmingham in defence of strikers.
At the very least, they must ensure the money is there to sustain the dispute.
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